Cooler weather helps contain Oregon wildfires, but trouble lies ahead

Cooler weather helps contain Oregon wildfires, but trouble lies ahead
An Oregon Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter drops water on a fire in support of fire suppression efforts at the Logging Unit fire west of Madras, Ore., July 20. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Jason van Mourik, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Cooler temperatures have helped firefighters make progress against a dozen large fires burning across Oregon, but officials said Monday that more lightning with the potential to start other blazes was expected in north-central Oregon in the days ahead.

Nearly 9,400 firefighting personnel were battling the fires that have burned 760 square miles in Oregon.

A low-pressure area moving in from the coast was expected to pass over north-central Oregon on Tuesday, bringing significant lightning from Hermiston south through John Day and Prineville, coordination center spokeswoman Katie Santini said.

"We had 108 new strikes Sunday in southeastern Oregon and are expecting to see more," she said from Portland.

On Sunday, fire managers lifted a ban on rafting on a popular stretch of the Deschutes River near Warm Springs after a crews strengthened containment lines on the Shaniko Butte fire, fire spokeswoman Carol Connolly said.

Started by lighting a week ago, the fire was 50 percent contained after burning through 66 square miles of grass, brush and junipers mostly on the northeastern corner of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.

Elsewhere, residents of 37 homes in the Ochoco Mountains south of Mitchell were allowed to return home after danger eased from the Waterman Complex fires.

U.S. Highway 26 remained closed at the Ochoco Summit east of Prineville. The fire was 35 percent contained after burning nearly 20 square miles of timber, brush and grass.

The Moccasin Hill fire, which burned 17 homes in a subdivision in Klamath County a week ago, was fully contained at 2,500 acres of mostly private timberland near Sprague River. The cause remained under investigation.

About 20 miles northwest of Sisters, about 45 homes along the Metolius River remained under an evacuation advisory due to the Bridge 99 fire, and residents of more than 800 others around Lake Billy Chinook were told to be ready to leave on short notice.

The fire was 20 percent contained after burning through about eight square miles of timber, brush and grass.

In the rugged rangelands east of Burns, the Buzzard Complex fires were 75 percent contained after burning across 576 square miles. Some scattered ranches were still under a low-level evacuation advisory. Some cattle have been found dead in the fire area.

Buzzard Complex

More than 1,400 firefighters are working the 395,000-acre Buzzard Complex. It's 617 square miles in size.

The lightning-caused fire is an estimated 75 percent contained.

Dividing the fire into an east and west zone, with an incident commander and staff for each, helps crews safely attack the fire in spite of its size, officials said.

Scattered thunderstorms in the area on Monday will be a concern, fire officials said.

Pine Creek

Almost 700 firefighters are dealing with high winds and red-flag conditions at the 30,245 acre Pine Creek Fire.

The fire is about 35 percent contained. Crews were worried about breezy conditions forecast for the afternoon.

Crews dropped two loads of retardant on the south end of the fire Monday.

Donnybrook

A crew of more than 200 has yet to achieve any containment of the Donnybrook fire 10 miles southeast of Antelope, Ore.

Lightening sparked the blaze, which has grown to more than 22,750 acres.

Bridge 99 Complex

The Bridge 99 complex is burning around more than 5,800 acres of the Deschutes National Forest north of Sisters, Ore. It is about 25 percent contained.

Fire officials imposed a level 3 evacuation for all private lands along the Metolius River, from Allen Springs Campground to Lake Billy Chinook (including the Metolius Arm). A level 3 evacuation means there is an immediate threat to people's safety in the area.

Officials said the forecast of lightening, high temperatures and low relative humidity will likely make the fight difficult.

Ochoco Complex

Firefighters got the upper hand on a few of the smaller fires in the Ochoco Complex, burning more than 6,300 acres of national forest land outside of Prineville.

Still, a big chunk of the area was closed by the Ochoco National Forest. The closure ran from Highway 26 on the west to Forest Road 12 on the east for the entirety of the forest.

Cooler temperatures and higher humidity will help firefighters in the next couple of days before thunderstorms are expected to move into the area.

Shaniko Butte Fire

Sparked by lightning on July 13, the Shaniko Butte Fire is now 42,500 acres. It's burning about 15 miles north of Warms Springs.

Crews orchestrated several large "burnout operations", which made for a jump in acreage but should help establish containment lines. Officials announced Sunday that the fire was believed to be about 50 percent contained.

The Bureau of Land Management reopened the lower Deschutes River on Sunday, but officials advise rafters that they may need to stop periodically to allow helicopters to dip their buckets.

Waterman Complex

Land Management officials said they hope to reopen one lane of Highway 26 through the Ochoco Mountains of central Oregon on Monday.

The complex is about 60 percent contained.

Fire officials said the Bailey Butte fire — the largest part of the Waterman Complex — had burned more than 9,745 acres west of Mitchell, Ore.

Level 2 evacuations are in place for homes along the West Branch and Marks Creek areas.

Sunflower Fire

A crew of 525 expected the fire to grow beyond the 6,700 acres it encompassed Monday afternoon.

The fire is about 35 percent contained, but the south and east lines were still pushing outward.

Officials were hoping to strengthen the containment line with a low-impact burn Monday evening, if conditions allowed.